Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière has been crowned ‘Queen of Burlesque’ at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, in a classic burlesque contest where competitors perform accompanied by a live band. Routines sometimes last up to eight minutes and transition over two or three traditional burlesque melodies, which defies the typical four minute rule at other festivals and major events.
“This past year has been a year of great joy!” Lou Lou told 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. “I got married, my toddler started sleeping in her own bed, and I won the coveted title of The New Orleans Burlesque Festival’s ‘Queen of Burlesque’!
“It feels surreal, but I am beyond privileged to hold the title. It was a huge honour to have competed with such a stellar cast. Each and every woman brought it hard.”
Competing for the crown wasn’t without its fair share of flutters.
“Just getting on that stage requires such high level of talent that it was hard not to get lost in the anxiety spiral of measuring up,” says Lou Lou. “At the end of the day I had great advice from my husband and friends, which was essentially get the hell out of your head and just have fun, which I did.”
Lou Lou’s black widow ensemble contrasted with the typical light, feminine ensembles seen in classic contests. “I am so happy to have won this title with an act that was unapologetically me,” Lou Lou explains. “It was dark, moody and a little bit weird. This number was less about what I thought the judges might want to see and more about what I wanted to give the audience – and I walked off that stage feeling like I had left every ounce of myself on the floorboards.”
Lou Lou’s triumph was hugely significant and special to her for another reason.
“I was informed that I am the first Canadian to hold the title, which I am very appreciative of, but more importantly on a personal level, I am the first Indigenous woman to be crowned.
“When I started performing in 2005, there was minimal representation of indigenous women in our industry. It fills my heart knowing that this is changing, and that through much emotional labour and perseverance we are able to begin addressing and unpacking issues of decolonisation of indigenous sexuality.
“I am humbled and honoured to continue to aid in this goal and I share this crown with all my sisters and brothers on Turtle Island!”
The dazzling, intricately designed spider costume was designed by ingenious burlesque costumier Christina Manuge of Manuge et Toi. She spoke to 21st Century Burlesque about the creative journey that brought the costume to the stage.
“Lou Lou came at me out of nowhere with this Spideress concept!” says Christina. “She specified an over bust corset, exaggerated hips and a voluminous mermaid skirt. I LOVE a structured silhouette, so it naturally ended up being very much about creating something impressive and architectural. Her spider theme led the way for style, and when I revealed my final design sketches to her, she announced that they were the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen!
“Adding to the look, she hired Hana Trudeau to make her a cape, and Adora Belle for pasties and gloves. Lou Lou made the bra and did all the rhinestone work herself. The Manuge et Toi parts are the dress, corset, bustle/overskirt, and panty.
“The bustle is the first thing to come off, being the uppermost layer. This piece is fully shaped and quilted, with a spiderweb motif and colour scheme to match the corset. A full ‘spider’, and its ‘legs’, are attached to the piece completely by snaps. The reason for this isn’t so she can remove those legs on stage, but so she can flatten the spider for packing. The legs are entirely boned so they will never need re-shaping, and will always keep those crisp bends!”
“The corset is also entirely quilted, which is something I chose to do as a design detail, but also to help reinforce my shaping. This gave me a more solid base for the spider web design. This was applied to the base piece by piece, created entirely of handmade silk bias tape, edge-stitched into place.
“The dress is all about that structured spider leg base!” Christina continues. “Each of the fourteen legs were built, boned, and shaped to be exactly the same as the next. They are attached to a hoop stack, which is designed so that Lou can remove the hoops for travel and storage.
“The legs are permanently attached, but fold reasonably flat for packing, as well. The hoop stack swirls around her as she moves. The test version of that stack was way too bouncy (which is why you should always make time to test these things!). I was able to solve the issue with a few tweaks to my build, and now we have what I think is a pretty fascinating garment, to go with Lou Lou’s spectacular style of movement and performance.”
View Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière’s winning performance below:
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.